Technology, Connection & Loneliness

Dr. Julie GurnerRelationshipsTechnology, Connection & Loneliness

Technology, Connection & Loneliness

Take a walk down the street and look at the people passing. I’m willing to bet that well over half are strolling with their earbuds in or texting. It’s amazing if you just take a moment to notice. Here we are all together, and no one really interacts.

Most recently, a study developed a lot of buzz that people who spend long periods of time on Facebook are more likely to struggle with depression – this shocked a lot of people, and got a lot of press. There are many that go back and forth around whether this was even a correct finding…but should it have been shocking?

We Are Disconnected

I am not someone who laments about the ‘good old days.’ In fact, I’d like to think that the best days of life are ahead of us. What I notice? In my quaint little neighborhood of brownstones, people still say ‘hello.’ You know who your neighbors are….and my elderly neighbor still ‘pays me in meatballs’ when I help her out. It is a stark difference from my time walking in the center of the city streets downtown.

Just sitting on the train in, people do not speak. They are texting, surfing the internet on their phones, playing on their tablets, or working.

Why?

–  The congestion of city life can be overwhelming.  There is a point where listening to your own music or texting with friends carves out a space for you amidst the madness of the sounds, noises and people. It’s our attempt to retreat from stress and find a bit of comfort, pleasure and connection.

–  We have so very little personal time. As Americans, we uniquely have very little time off and perhaps this is our way of simply grabbing a break. With many Americans not taking their vacation days, working long hours, or even taking time for lunch, we need a cognitive rest.

– We want to connect, but we have lost ‘how.’ With the popularity of Facebook, I think we desperately want to keep up with our friendships and family, share a laugh, and be part of each others lives. Our friends are often just as busy as we are, and it’s the only method readily available to enjoy them. We take what we can.

So the Loneliness?

In using twitter (which I am a huge fan of @drgurner), and Facebook we have forgotten the personal touches that make connections satisfying. If you’ve ever had to have a long distance relationship you likely know this very well. It can’t be done in texts, a limited amount of characters, or tagging in photos. There is just something missing.

While those certainly can supplement our connections in wonderful ways (it is fantastic to get a supportive, funny, or loving text at work), there is nothing quite like hearing your sister laugh on the phone, or watching your grandmother embarrassingly dance at a family picnic completely off rhythm.

How To Combat This?

– Make a Plan. While we can’t talk as often as we like, or visit as often as we want…do what you can. Schedule visits or catch-up time in like you would a meeting. For example, I actually have ‘talk time’ with my sister every Thursday night at 7:30pm for an hour. It’s great, and I look forward to it all week. Along with our texting, it’s a great supplement between when we can see each other. Schedule some ‘talk time’ or weekly dinners with friends or someone you love.

– Do the Personal Touches. Send real cards (not ecards), write letters to people, put together a care package for no reason, and take the time to connect.

– Create Socialization that’s Real. Going out can often put you in your ‘own world amongst others.’ Actually take the time to have a dinner party, have friends over for wine & bring their favorite movie, have a family game night. It’s infectious. People will start looking forward to it…or hosting fun events themselves.

– Take time Away from your Technology.  To truly experience other people, disconnect for a bit every day.  Put your phone down for dinner. Talk to the local barista at the coffee shop and ask about their day. Help someone with their groceries. Don’t be so busy that you don’t ‘see’ other people.

One of the best things about being human is the interactions we have with others. Don’t miss life because you were on the phone.

Comments (1)

  1. Great post with lots of very valid points. So if depression is connected to Facebook, I am elated my youngest refuses to spend time on it. However, is a Snapchat any different?

    It seems we are moving faster than ever before. I began on a mobile smart phone in the 90’s. When it came to the masses adopting it was disturbing. I had been a head down phase for a years already, but to see it everywhere….

    The global implications of this are good and bad. We’re seeing connections that appear less than 6 degrees away. Leapfrogging the continent to connect with more meaningful relationships. Those who resonate with us, who understand us better, who have more in common with. I’m chatting with my neighbors now on Nextdoor.com … I take comfort in that. I’m hoping it will bring us closer together, versus farther apart. So perhaps all is not lost. We’re communicating, just more with those we want to and less with those who we have no connection with.

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